Chapter XXIX. "I'm Not Going to Marry"
 

Billy did not know whether to be more amazed or amused at Bertram's proposal of marriage. She was vexed; she was very sure of that. To marry Bertram? Absurd! . . . Then she reflected that, after all, it was only Bertram, so she calmed herself.

Still, it was annoying. She liked Bertram, she had always liked him. He was a nice boy, and a most congenial companion. He never bored her, as did some others; and he was always thoughtful of cushions and footstools and cups of tea when one was tired. He was, in fact, an ideal friend, just the sort she wanted; and it was such a pity that he must spoil it all now with this silly sentimentality! And of course he had spoiled it all. There was no going back now to their old friendliness. He would be morose or silly by turns, according to whether she frowned or smiled; or else he would take himself off in a tragic sort of way that was very disturbing. He had said, to be sure, that he would "win." Win, indeed! As if she could marry Bertram! When she married, her choice would fall upon a man, not a boy; a big, grave, earnest man to whom the world meant something; a man who loved music, of course; a man who would single her out from all the world, and show to her, and to her only, the depth and tenderness of his love; a man who--but she was not going to marry, anyway, remembered Billy, suddenly. And with that she began to cry. The whole thing was so "tiresome," she declared, and so "absurd."

Billy rather dreaded her next meeting with Bertram. She feared-- she knew not what. But, as it turned out, she need not have feared anything, for he met her tranquilly, cheerfully, as usual; and he did nothing and said nothing that he might not have done and said before that twilight chat took place.

Billy was relieved. She concluded that, after all, Bertram was going to be sensible. She decided that she, too, would be sensible. She would accept him on this, his chosen plane, and she would think no more of his "nonsense."

Billy threw herself then even more enthusiastically into her beloved work. She told Marie that after all was said and done, there could not be any man that would tip the scales one inch with music on the other side. She was a little hurt, it is true, when Marie only laughed and answered:

"But what if the man and the music both happen to be on the same side, my dear; what then?"

Marie's voice was wistful, in spite of the laugh--so wistful that it reminded Billy of their conversation a few weeks before.

"But it is you, Marie, who want the stockings to darn and the puddings to make," she retorted playfully. "Not I! And, do you know? I believe I shall turn matchmaker yet, and find you a man; and the chiefest of his qualifications shall be that he's wretchedly hard on his hose, and that he adores puddings."

"No, no, Miss Billy, don't, please!" begged the other, in quick terror. "Forget all I said the other day; please do! Don't tell-- anybody!"

She was so obviously distressed and frightened that Billy was puzzled.

"There, there, 'twas only a jest, of course," she soothed her. "But, really Marie, it is the dear, domestic little mouse like yourself that ought to be somebody's wife--and that's the kind men are looking for, too."

Marie gave a slow shake of her head.

"Not the kind of man that is somebody, that does something," she objected; "and that's the only kind I could--love. He wants a wife that is beautiful and clever, that can do things like himself--like himself!" she iterated feverishly.

Billy opened wide her eyes.

"Why, Marie, one would think--you already knew--such a man," she cried.

The little music teacher changed her position, and turned her eyes away.

"I do, of course," she retorted in a merry voice, "lots of them. Don't you? Come, we've discussed my matrimonial prospects quite long enough," she went on lightly. "You know we started with yours. Suppose we go back to those."

"But I haven't any," demurred Billy, as she turned with a smile to greet Aunt Hannah, who had just entered the room. "I'm not going to marry; am I, Aunt Hannah?"

"Er--what? Marry? My grief and conscience, what a question, Billy! Of course you're going to marry--when the time comes!" exclaimed Aunt Hannah.

Billy laughed and shook her head vigorously. But even as she opened her lips to reply, Rosa appeared and announced that Mr. Calderwell was waiting down-stairs. Billy was angry then, for after the maid was gone, the merriment in Aunt Hannah's laugh only matched that in Marie's--and the intonation was unmistakable.

"Well, I'm not!" declared Billy with pink cheeks and much indignation, as she left the room. And as if to convince herself, Marie, Aunt Hannah, and all the world that such was the case, she refused Calderwell so decidedly that night when he, for the half- dozenth time, laid his hand and heart at her feet, that even Calderwell himself was convinced--so far as his own case was concerned--and left town the next day.

Bertram told Aunt Hannah afterward that he understood Mr. Calderwell had gone to parts unknown. To himself Bertram shamelessly owned that the more "unknown" they were, the better he himself would be pleased.